“He Feeds on Fear, Poisons the Truth to Gain Their Faith to Lead the Way to a World of Decay”
Abstract: In my Shakespeare class we read Richard III, and for my essay on the play I decided to write about “Harry Potter.” This essay compares the character of Richard to Voldemort. There are spoilers for all seven books here. The title is the same one that I used on the essay and is from the song ‘Deceiver of Fools’ by Within Temptation.
One of the most famous writers of all time is Shakespeare, and one of the most famous writers of modern times is J.K. Rowling. They both must have had very memorable components of their writing to be so renowned in the world of literature; something that other writers struggle to create that can make their work stand out for years. As Shakespeare is best known as a playwright, and as the character’s dialogue is the only way that the audience can be told the story, it comes as little surprise that he gave his characters very strong, even exaggerated, personalities. As Rowling wrote novels, she had the benefit of narration to tell the story, and her characters could get away with a milder disposition without confusing the readers as to why they did anything. However, she packed every bit as much energy into her characters as Shakespeare did, with the result that they can be compared very favorably with his own characters.
Virtually anyone on the street can tell you that the villain in the Harry Potter series is Lord Voldemort, but not nearly as many can tell you that he shares many unpleasant characteristics with Richard III. One of the things that they share is a common goal of attaining power – and as much of it as they can. Both of them are looking to be the sole ruler of England, one a king and the other an immortal dictator. Richard wants to control England, but his biggest problem is that he needs to be discreet, as he needs to have the support of the people if he wants them to obey him as king. Voldemort wants to rule as well, but his biggest problem is that he wasn’t as careful as Richard, and his enemy Harry warns the wizarding world that he is planning to take over before he is ready to do so. Richard decides that his best course of action is to become king the legal way, by inheriting the throne, and will do so by killing anyone in line before him. Voldemort decides that what he needs to do is terrorize the country into listening to him, and will do so by killing anyone who stands in his presence for more than thirty seconds without swearing allegiance.
These men, now armed with a goal and a plan, next need a crew of henchmen to help them on their way. Richard turns to his fellow Dukes and Lords, including Hastings and Buckingham, to help with his publicity. For his dirty work, he enlists the help of a few commoners, such as the two unnamed murderers and Tyrrel. These people probably do not much want to help Richard, so he bribes them with money and titles of nobility. Voldemort does not have much money to throw around, so he offers power and safety to those who help him, with the occasional threat of the death of various family members. Although he does care about the common opinion of his enemies, Richard cares little about his own public appearance, so anyone who supports him must be willing to take direct part in the action. This is why Buckingham, helpful in politics but reluctant to kill the Princes, was invaluable to Richard, but would have been quickly killed as a Death Eater.
Both Richard and Voldemort’s promised rewards can only be redeemed after they successfully gain power, and only if they are in the giving vein, which means that anyone who quits partway through, such as Buckingham and Karkaroff, receive no rewards, and are instead killed. There are, however, supporters who have lost their loyalty to Richard and Voldemort who are kept alive purely to make their lives miserable. Near the end of the play, Richard accuses Stanley of wanting to aid his enemy Richmond, and holds his son George hostage to prevent him from abandoning him. Stanley later refuses to come to fight for Richard, who orders George’s death as soon as the fight ends. In the battle that takes place after this order is given, Richard dies, and George is saved. Similarly, the Malfoys were once strong supporters of Voldemort, but they quickly lose interest as their teenage son Draco is put in danger while attempting to help him. Voldemort sees this, and takes great pleasure in tormenting the family for the duration of the war with the hopes of scaring them into continuing to support him. In the final battle, he decides to kill Draco to take control of the all-powerful Elder Wand, but dies a few minutes later, and the murder does not occur.
While Richard does not kill anyone himself, both he and Voldemort are responsible for a great number of deaths. Both of them kill their enemies, but also their own family members. For Richard to be king, he needs to be next in line to the throne. As the current sickly King Edward is his brother, this is easier than it sounds, but he still needs to remove his brother Clarence and his two young nephews from the picture. He does so by locking them up in the Tower of London, under the pretense of protecting them, then sending groups of assassins to their cells to finish them off. Voldemort kills his father and grandparents, but these murders are more for revenge than for any strategic move. Directly after their deaths, he frames his uncle as the murderer, who is carted off to jail at once, where he dies. This death was to take any suspicion away from him, as well as to obtain an ancient ring that was passed down in the family. These people did not pose any threat to him, as Richard’s family did, but they too were killed by their own family.
With their respective families freshly murdered, Richard and Voldemort then proceed to kill their followers, to whom they owe all of their success. Richard fears that Hastings will abandon him, and has him killed before he gets the chance to make a move. He does this by asking Hastings what punishment the person who is responsible for mutilating him deserves. Hastings, like a good drone, replies that the culprit should be killed. This was exactly the answer that Richard was waiting for, and he publicly announces that Hastings’ girlfriend is a witch, and that the pair of them have bewitched him. As Hastings had said only a few minutes before that the offender must die, he finds himself in the middle of a trap that he had walked into. Richard orders his death, which cannot be disputed. This display shows the other nobles in the room that Richard has the power to order their deaths just as easily, unless they are careful to do nothing to anger him. He has lost an important ally but has probably gained the reluctant support of many others, or at the very least gave them a reason to hesitate before opposing him.
Voldemort also agrees that this is a good plan of Richard’s, as he does the same thing to terrorize his supporters. Should any of his Death Eaters fail him, they know that they will face a public punishment, and therefore work hard to avoid angering their master. Avery, in particular, is shown being punished more than once for delivering inaccurate information, which makes the rest of the group more careful before saying anything. Even if the information that they have is correct, he will still shoot the messenger if the news is bad, which he does after discovering the theft of Hufflepuff’s Cup. He is also quick to kill any of his supporters for any reason, whether because he is angry, because he wants something that they have, or just to prove a point. He has gained a great deal from the help of Snape, but he kills him in the final battle in order to gain control of the Elder Wand, and soon finds out that this death does not even lead to his possession of the wand, and he has killed a strong ally for no reason. Upon discovering this, he shows no regret for his actions.
Richard, however, does eventually begin to regret the many deaths that he has caused, after seeing the ghosts of his victims curse him in his sleep. This is very similar to the chapter ‘Priori Incantatum’ in Goblet of Fire, where Voldemort’s most recent victims come to life around him and insult him too. The readers do not know what the ghosts say to Voldemort, but they do watch them tell Richard to “Despair and die”, and that they encourage both Richmond and Harry. Richard is shaken by this encounter, but while Voldemort fears the apparitions, he quickly puts them from his mind. Both versions of this event also have the same mistake; all of the characters appear in the chronological order of their deaths, but with one person out of place. The ghost of Buckingham appears before the ghosts of the Princes, but it appears in the story that the Princes are killed by Tyrell before Buckingham is found and killed. Voldemort’s victims appear in reverse order, from most recent to farther back, but Harry’s father appears before his mother when the reader knows that James died first. This was later corrected in more recent versions of the book, but Shakespeare’s version was not changed for fear of ruining any part of his work.
Hopefully there is no secret school in England that teaches prospective overlords how to be evil, but if there was, then it would be very clear why Richard and Voldemort employ so many of the same tactics. As there is no evidence of such a place, the most plausible explanation is that J.K. Rowling has read the play Richard III, and has gained inspiration from it. Richard is a very dynamic character, who surely would not mind saying so himself, and creating another character based on his would be a very good idea. As Richard is not a wizard, he and Voldemort are sufficiently different to prove the immense creativity of Rowling and avoid accusing her of copying Shakespeare, but it seems that Voldemort is too similar to have been created entirely independently of Richard.